Seems like he’s everywhere these days. But he might not be at Westminster Abbey on May 6 to see his dad officially crowned “King”. Obviously I’m talking about Prince Harry, or perhaps Harry Wales as he might be called now. I just finished reading his memoir, Spare, and my reaction is…complicated. Like Harry. Probably seldom since Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde has there been a story about a character with such opposing sides to him. He’s responsible yet irresponsible, mature at times yet largely immature, fiercely loyal yet disloyal as well, smart but dumb, a conservationist who at times shows little regard for life, a soldier who at times shows little regard for military protocol. One thing about his book – it’s never a dull read.
The book really covers his whole life so far, at least as he remembers it, right up through his grandma Queen Elizabeth’s death last year. For the few who might not know, Harry was the younger son of Prince Charles (now “King” Charles) and Princess Diana. Which set up the two major points which have shaped his life. One, his difficult relationship with his older brother William, compounded by the fact that William would be next in line for the crown after their dad, making him the “heir” and Harry, “the spare”. William seemingly always gets preferential treatment therefore, from better houses to more plum diplomatic assignments on behalf of the country. Two, his difficult relationship with his parents. He adored his mom, but as we know, she died in 1997, when Harry was not yet 13. In contrast, Charles was always distant and rather cold towards Harry, and things didn’t improve when dad took up with his long-time mistress, Camilla.
Given the circumstances of his mother’s death (being in an accident when chased by paparazzi) it’s understandable he has a longstanding, deep dislike for the press and especially their photographers. “Paps” he calls them, when he’s being polite. But while William has avoided major controversies and abuse from the British press, Harry has seemed a magnet for it. Some fair, some not so, but even he admits some of his actions didn’t help his case any. Wearing a Nazi uniform out, even to a costume party, can’t help but draw negative attention to oneself, as he found out bitterly. Even he admits now that was rather boneheaded, though he blames his brother and sister-in-law Kate for encouraging him. Which points to that overall immaturity mentioned before. He’s been portrayed as wild and drugged-out, which he has taken issue with all the while documenting his ongoing use of marijuana (still illegal in the UK) and frequent use of psychedelic drugs – throwing his “friend” Courteney Cox under the bus while doing so – and years of heavy drinking. He was criticized by various press members for joining the Army and going to fight in Afghanistan, which is probably very unwarranted. He seemed to sincerely want to be one of the men and do his country’s bidding. But, he then goes on to detail, “brag” some might say, about how many Taliban he killed over there, which has incited the military brass – that’s not something you talk about – and made him more of a target for terrorists than ever before. This while he goes on to document and complain about the troubles of finding adequate security to protect him and his family. And, as an environmentalist myself, I am in admiration of his work in Africa and hands-on support for animals like Rhinos and elephants… but equally displeased by his love of blood sports, fondness for shooting birds, rabbits and squirrels unchecked and am dumbfounded he seems to think killing off the biggest, strongest deer around is good for nature. Obviously, if trying to hunt to “help” the natural balance, one would cull the smallest, lamest members of the species.
All that said, he does make some good points and have some valid reasons to complain. He seems quite concerned about returning soldiers and helping them deal with physical and mental harm they endured overseas, something many a government, the United States included, often seem to ignore. And, many of his good traits deal with his wife, Meghan Markle, who seemingly can’t win for losing with the British tabloids. She has worn clothes picked out for her by the palace and been slut-shamed by the press for them, been reprimanded publicly for getting into a car before Queen Elizabeth when the queen told her to “get in the car”. Curiously, the late Queen is one member of his family he speaks of in good terms and seemed to genuinely love. Meg’s been slammed for her former life as an actress and been slurred because of her mixed racial background. Some of the racism, which he says is far stronger in Jolly Ol’ than in the U.S., or Canada (where she lived seven years) , might be perceived. His mom, Diana was the whitest of women but still got raked over the coals by the tabloids. But some of it is clearcut and vile – there’s no way to put a good spin on a newspaper running a photo of a couple with a chimpanzee and labeling it “royal baby goes home”. No wonder he’s angry. And I would say his loyalty to his wife is one of his best traits, although unfortunately it seems to require casting his family aside to do so. But for that, Charles and William share at least as much blame.
All in all, a complicated man to figure out, but one who has an interesting story to tell. I hope he continues to mature, little by little and can really find his life’s calling. For his many flaws it’s hard not to rather like him, nor to admire his willingness to throw away his royal title and ties. And after reading the book, one might think that we could also hope his work endures even if his father’s does not. Because Spare is certainly not a great endorsement of the British royalty or the system it comes from.